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Doctor in Bethlehem

Paediatrican's holiday in Bethlehem

I took off from London in sunshine and touched down in Tel Aviv in clouds and rain.

My aim was to spend my annual leave in this place which from old is dear to many of us around the world: The Little Town whose name evokes magic associations in each of us from the early days of our childhood.

The welcome in Bethlehem I received was nothing like what Mary and Joseph had to go through 2000 years earlier.

There is plenty of room in all inns in these days!

As a paediatrician it was an irresistible offer to be welcomed in the only Children's Hospital around and given lovely food and accommodation for two weeks in exchange for a bit of daily resuscitation training to the medical staff.

So I spent three hours every morning among most motivated nurses and doctors (whose professional development and possibilities to attend courses elsewhere, sadly, are severely restricted by political and financial restraints), showing them the rules and tricks of the trade in paediatric and neonatal emergency medicine and in return was pampered with presents and invitations.

In the afternoon hours I wandered through the streets of Bethlehem admiring the wonderful views around and onto the Judean Mountains from this hilltop on which Bethlehem lies. It's useless to try and explain the awe you do feel all the time being in this place where Jesus was born.

The weather had now become warm and sunny. I was fascinated by the vibrating light, the far blue sky, the velvet-green olive trees and the soft light colours of the stone everywhere, and by the many many smiles and welcomes from the local people standing and waiting outside their deserted shops glad to see a "tourist."

There were hardly any visitors like myself around to buy all their beautiful and mostly hand crafted goods.

Instead, the streets were full of little kids, many of them running after me with their hands held open, a truly distressing and deplorable sight, not only for a paediatrician!

Some older ones who knew a bit of English even addressed me with a heartbreaking smile, asking me if I did not want to come and visit their father's shop.

"Do you want to be a millionaire?"  Well, I did there and then although I'm usually immune to this desire.  Every few metres I just wished I could go inside and boost economy and trade which obviously are down on their knees here.


The reason for it is visible to the naked eye everywhere, all around Bethlehem, and soon around the whole of Palestine - a huge wall. I had chosen to spend my holidays in a giant prison. You can't miss this several metres high grey wall that's being built by Israel near the border on the Palestinian land to close the Palestinians in.

When you're actually standing in front of it, hearing from the local people that the land it stands on, their personal property for generations, has been taken off them for the construction of this wall, the impact is truly shocking. Their life is being ruined and turned lifeless by it.  I, a tourist from far away, was able to pass through it and visit Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, but the people who were born here and live in this town are locked in.  Many of the young people have never been to the places outside, have never seen Jerusalem, have never seen the Mediterranean Sea,

Their hearts are full of desperation over this permanent restriction, intimidation, and discrimination, and not a single day passed in those two weeks where I was not listening to their frustration, their sadness, and their hopelessness.  Many now want to leave their homeland because life has become unbearable. Those who can afford it, join the exodus from this region.

For anyone who claims to have some insight into the psychological forces that rule and drive our human emotions, it is no wonder that this visible, stony, monster attracts the Palestinian youths who already have got no hope for their future, to gather and throw stones at it. Sure, this was also something I saw in my holidays.

Why do we not know back home about the extent of oppression that's happening here?

I can only encourage everybody: Go and see for yourself!

Printed with permission of
 Independent Catholic News 2007

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